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New York Times, Myself on “Precious” November 21, 2009

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The New York Times has a great little article out on the debate  over Precious, over whether or not it’s a responsible representation of black people. Felicia Lee asked for my opinion, based on an essay written for this blog:

Aymar Jean Christian, a doctoral student in communications at the University of Pennsylvania said he found “Precious” brilliant and added, “In some ways, the debate’s not about the movie, it’s about the idea of the movie,” and black concerns about representation.

On his blog, Televisual (at blog.ajchristian.org), he wrote that Precious was “by far the scariest movie for anyone invested in having only ‘good’ representations of black people (‘The Cosby Show!’) in film and TV.”

The article explores the film’s historical predecessors, markedly The Color Purple, and its televisual antithesis, The Cosby Show. Professor and cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal (under whom I researched YouTube, black vloggers and identity) lays out the connection:

A father repeatedly rapes and impregnates his daughter in “The Color Purple” (as does the father in “Precious”), enraging some critics (mostly men) who asserted that the book and the film treated black men harshly. “Precious” has avoided that kind of backlash, but “people are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light,” Professor Neal said. The roots of that suspicion, he said, can be found in a long history of negative images in popular culture that helped keep black people in their place by reinforcing the notion of their inferiority.

Most black people, the article implies, aren’t wholesale against the movie — except Armond White — but some are still wary of it, especially scholars, because of a long history if demeaning images of black people (minstrelsy, early radio, film and television) and the persistent threat of stereotype.

This strikes me as true. The enormous popularity of the film, especially among black people, signals there’s a demand for these kinds of stories. I’m not sure if it’s about a kind of “authentic” black narrative, or if it stems from a larger narrative of struggle, but whatever the case, the story has resonated in print (Sapphire’s novel Push) and now in film. This is meaningful, and in my opinion not particularly damaging.

My Interview with NPR /WBUR on Black Web Series November 17, 2009

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Click to listen to the program.

Thank you to producer Kevin Sullivan and host Robin Young for granting me a chance to talk about Buppies, black web series and web series in general for their show Here and Now! And thank you to Aaliyah Williams, Buppies producer for doing the show and granting me an interview weeks ago.

Click the photo above or here to listen to the program.

One thing I forgot to mention on-air is that black shows online have a surprising number of gay and lesbian characters, much more so than we see on television and in movies. This is another example about how the ability to produce one’s own narrative leads to greater diversity and possibility (even if doing so is incredibly difficult and arduous).

I apologize that I couldn’t mention particular shows on-air, but there are too many. For a list of shows, click the link above, and for all my web series posts and research, click here.

Black Television on the Web Gets More Coverage November 15, 2009

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The premiere of Buppies in two weeks seems to have captured a small bit of media attention! I’d like to think my article in The Root, probably the first on the issue, had a little something to do with it, and I’m glad to be researching a topic so fresh. (For my list of black “webisodes” click the black web series page link.)

In the latest piece of news, DeNeen L. Brown, of The Washington Post — a company I hold in high regard, for obvious reasons — did a write up of a few of the new series, mainly Chick, whose creator I’d interviewed before, and Buppies, about which I’ve written for this blog and the Wall Street Journal. Brown does a thorough job talking to various players, including Jonathan Moore of RowdyOrbit, a site which continues to interest those in the media, though I’d like to think I found it first!

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Jonathan Moore of RowdyOrbit

Brown also talks to the NAACP and two professors who write about black media — though not myself! She references previous “web television” or “webisodes” like Lonelygirl15, although there have been many since then, a number of them quite successful. Nonetheless, she does say “web television” has been around since the 1990s, a fact missed by a number of people who write about. I recently did an interview with Scott Zakarin, who created The Spot, which proves this fact.

Essence has also done a write-up on the trend, focusing on Buppies, and Tatyana Ali did the Mo’Nique Show.

In other news, last week I recorded an interview with Buppies‘ Aaliyah Williams about this topic for “Here and Now,” a radio program for Boston’s NPR hosted by Robin Young.  Come back to the blog for updates!

Me on Jezebel, or “Women Who Don’t Work” October 8, 2009

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So Jezebel has done a riff on my article in Splice Today (“The Death of the Working Woman?”), and cited it again in another post this week! Thanks, Jezebel!

To be honest, the article was not my finest work. I was merely reacting to some personal observations: there are a lot of productive, innovative and super-talented women working in and outside of Hollywood, and only a few of them get the glam cover treatment of popular women’s magazines. But this wasn’t an academic study, just anecdotal observation; it may not even be true.

I am afraid — and was concerned about this before I sent it in — that the tone of the piece was too condescending. After all, who am I to speak about women, anyway? And what kinds of work am I valuing and devaluing? There’s also the issue of selection; after all, Tina Fey’s landed at least three covers over the years, and Michelle Obama, a great role model, probably has over a dozen under her fabulous belts.

Still, I do think there’s a difference between Kate Winslet and Lauren Conrad, or even Beyonce, who is crazy productive, and Jessica Simpson. But, eh, these are just my opinions, and I’m not an editor, nor am I the target market, so how do I know what sells (or should sell)!

Mostly, I’m conflicted about the article because I try not to police media images too much. Yes, I do it often. Not going to lie. These are fun articles to write. But in general I think it’s kind of boorish, even if exciting and scandalous. I think I came off particularly shrill in the Splice piece, and I’m not one to take such a hard line on the state of female employment. Oh well, c’est la vie. No takesies-backsies.

Oh yes, and I don’t have a problem with stay-at-home moms, if that wasn’t clear. Of course not! That paragraph is a distilled version of an ongoing academic discussion that I’d be happy to have with anyone who emails me.